Architect-cum-builder Lachlan Nielsen of Nielsen Jenkins Architecture gained a unique perspective of, and appreciation for, the building trade when he took on the challenge of building a home for his parents in Mount Tamborine.
By Natalie Mortimer
Better Building: Why did you decide to take that time away to build Tamborine house yourself?
Lachlan Nielsen: At the time I was working for Jamie Russell and I’d already started the project for my parents in my final year of university and it got to a point where I was looking for builders. I was building quite a bit of stuff with Jamie at that stage and I thought, ‘why not?’ My dad grew up on farming property so he was always pretty good with welders and steel work. So we decided if we were going to build it we would start by using trades and things that he could do and also create something that was really robust that could withstand the Mount Tamborine climate.
What were some of the challenges you encountered having never built a house before?
The house is about an hour and 10 minutes from Brisbane and about 45 minutes from the coast so, trade wise, finding trades to work on a project that is not the run-of-the-mill was quite interesting. We tried to get local trades, which some of them were, but some of them were from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. We were quite lucky that the glazier who did all the windows and doors was from just down the bottom of the hill.
The other challenge was being quite naive and being trained in architecture and not building. I did have some experience having worked on a number of built projects with Jamie Russell, but that was more the project management side.
How has your experience as a builder helped to improve the architect/builder relationship today?
It’s helped massively. Through my experience of being a builder we now document things that are buildable: so we will often get builders to tell us if what we are planning is doable.
We’ve got three graduates and students in the office now and we get them to really make sure they understand what they are drawing so that it can be built. So rather than us all staring [at the plans] on-site and the builder saying, ‘We can’t build it’ and us saying, ‘Well, we think you can, but we actually don’t know’, now we are certain when we have discussions on-site about whether we can and can’t do things.
Who would you say are the best and worst trades to work with and why?
We’ve had dramas with joiners, with windows and doors, but roofers seem to be consistent. The biggest problem we have though is with subcontractors. On one project lately we had labourers that were three steps away from the contractor and the quality was just woeful. We now explicitly put in our specification that contracts are not to be subcontracted out, so that’s probably been our biggest drama.
Client: Craig and Christine Nielsen
Area: 176 square metres (including garage)
Scope: Design and construction
Collaborative partners: Tanya Nielsen (interior designer)
Principal design leader: Lachlan Nielsen
Builder: Nielsen Workshop/Craig and Christine Nielsen (owner/builders)
Architect: Lachlan Nielsen
Interior designer: Tanya Nielsen
Engineer: Bligh Tanner
Photography: Alicia Taylor Photography (completed project) Lachlan Nielsen (construction)